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5 Years Probation for Trash Driver in Fatal Sleeping Man Incident

5 Years Probation for Trash Driver in Fatal Sleeping Man Incident

On Wednesday, the trial of a former waste management worker was resumed. He is charged with murder in the death of a homeless man who was found dead by a dumpster. Paris resident Waylan Bryan Merritt, 48, has been accused with causing a fatal accident. He was given five years of probation and no fines on Wednesday night.

After hitting 36-year-old Jesse Justiss with his car in October 2020, police arrested Merritt. Merritt used to be employed by the garbage removal firm that serves the shopping center located at 310 W. Ferguson Road. On Tuesday, both the prosecution and defense had the opportunity to interrogate witnesses.

Everyone from police officers and detectives to store managers and forensic pathologists was involved in this investigation. The state claims Merritt knew he had run over Justiss, yet he continued his trash route nevertheless. The defense maintained that Merritt observed a body but did not intentionally strike it.

The Mount Pleasant police officer who had been summoned in on Tuesday was called back to testify on Wednesday to answer further questions from the prosecution. The police officer reported that Merritt claimed he didn’t see Justiss’ body until after he had retreated. The police officer claimed Merritt gave no explanation for his failure to notify authorities about the body.

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The defense next questioned the police officer and presented photographic proof of the officer standing on the cardboard box on which Justiss was said to have slept. The defense then claimed that the police should not have seen tire marks under Justiss’ body, which the officer agreed with.

In addition, the officer stated that he was wearing a body camera during the event; yet, there is no video of the initial meeting between the two parties. After identifying Merritt as the main suspect, the defense asked the officer why he assured Merritt that he was not in trouble. The police officer insisted that Merritt was not in any legal jeopardy.

The defense then argued that Merritt never admitted to running over Justiss, and that the police officer never explicitly asked him.

10:30 a.m. Update:

The police officer verified that the Coca-Cola delivery driver had arrived at the location before Merritt, but the truck was never searched for evidence. The police officer also claimed he had looked for evidence on the tires of Merritt’s trash truck but had come up empty.

The police officer then verified that he had never asked to see Justiss’ autopsy images and that there had been no comparison of tire tread and forensic markings on Justiss’ body. The state’s interrogation of the officer resumed, and it was then that they brought up the fact that the zig-zag pattern on the cardboard box Justiss was said to have been sleeping on matched the wear on Merritt’s tires.

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When the police officer arrived to question Merritt, he claimed he had not yet concluded that a crime had been committed because he did not know whether Merritt had purposefully run over Justiss or failed to help him. The officer interviews Merritt, who claims he witnessed blood pouring from Justiss’ mouth but didn’t report it for fear of repercussions.

After further questioning from the defense, the officer conceded that he could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that DNA was present on Merritt’s tires because of the limited scope of his investigation. He likewise admitted ignorance about the appearance of the Coca-Cola truck’s tire tread. At last, he conceded that Merritt never directly blamed him for running over the box.

1:30 p.m. Update – Closing Arguments:

To kick off their last arguments, the state simply restated their original position. They said that Merritt ran over Justiss, left the scene, and then returned knowing that Justiss was involved. He did not notify anyone via phone of the crisis. The state maintained that Merritt, who allegedly confirmed seeing Justiss and witnessing him bleeding from the lips, should have stayed at the scene and phoned for help.

The defense team then made their final arguments from the witness stand. They cited the medical examiner’s testimony that Justiss would have died instantly, highlighting the fact that there was no longer any reason to administer medical care to her. They also mentioned that Merritt denied hitting Justiss and drove around the mall multiple times out of fear of being blamed for an act he didn’t commit.

After that, the defense stated that the driver of the Coca-Cola truck arrived to the site first and saw Justiss on the ground. They brought up the fact that the driver was never interviewed and that no evidence was found on his tires. Justiss’s body, they argued, did not match the markings on Merritt’s garbage truck.

At the conclusion of their case, the state made it clear that they believe Merritt is guilty. They argued that the defense’s implication that Merritt was responsible for the Coca-Cola driver was false, as Justiss never left the truck.

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3:30 p.m. Update – Verdict:

The jury deliberated and ultimately decided that Merritt was responsible for the crime. The sentencing process can now begin.

4 p.m. update – Sentencing Arguments:

A man who has known Merritt since he was a teenager and is close friends with Merritt’s son was summoned as a witness by the defense. He said he had faith that Merritt will do well on probation. The man told authorities that he thought Merritt was very afraid the morning of the incident when questioned whether Merritt had shown any signs of empathy.

Next, Merritt’s mother-in-law was taken to the stand to testify that her son is a wonderful stepfather to her two grandchildren. When questioned by the government, she claimed she couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Even after hearing the guilty verdict, she still finds it hard to believe, but she accepts the decision of the jury.

4:45 p.m. Update – Sentencing Arguments:

The defense next had Merritt undergo psychological evaluations with the help of a forensic psychiatrist in Dallas. The psychiatrist said Merritt’s IQ was only 70 when the norm is 100. Merritt has an intellectual handicap since she only has the cognitive abilities of a sixth-grader when it comes to spelling and a fifth-grader when it comes to math. Merritt was recommended for probation by the psychiatrist.

The psychiatrist evaluated Merritt for two and a half hours, conducting tests and reviewing evidence like his police interrogation on film. Merritt’s wife testified for the defense, saying she has known him since he was in “resource classes” in high school.

She spoke highly of Merritt as a husband and parent who does his best to provide for his family. She pleaded with the jury to give the defendant a chance at probation. After what Merritt did to Justiss, the state wanted to know if she would recommend probation for someone who had done the same thing to her son. She admitted that she was at a loss for words.

One of Merritt’s coworkers testified on his behalf, saying he’s known Merritt since 2011. According to him, Merritt is a kind guy and a dedicated worker, but he has atypical responses to situations because he is “slower.”

He claimed that Merritt’s fear of being fired was greater than his fear of being apprehended by the police. The employee told the authorities that Merritt has no problem operating a truck, but that he doesn’t always apply common sense.

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